The Freedman Archives

The following is a collection of letters written by Gary Freedman to his imagined friend.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A New Year's Greeting


January 3, 2005

Hey, buddy. How does the new year find you, my friend? As for me, well . . . "The new year finds me in low spirits, or perhaps I'm simply low in spirits. I drank them all to the lees on New Year's Eve."

Of course, that was the opening line of my letter to you from January 2004, one year ago. You never read that letter, or so you claim -- in the conspiracy of silence you and William concocted for the benefit of The Powers That Be. You read only one of my letters -- or so you reported to The Authorities -- the one dated April 16, 2004 -- and the rest, as George Orwell would have it, is "history." Well, that was the year that was: 2004, a year of actions and reactions (and not all of them salutary, to be sure). I spend my days still wrestling with questions that haunt me: "Why did Brian do it? Why? Did I disappoint him in some way? Did I make him angry?" What was behind it all I cannot begin to guess.

In any event, Happy New Year. Time, if not truth, marches on. I am a Time Marcher. Not a Time Waltzer, but a Time Marcher -- but THAT, as they say, is an entirely different meter.

As time goes by I grow in age and awareness (paranoid awareness, some claim), if not in wisdom and maturity. Though, for me, each new year brings nothing new, just a repetition of the old. New Year? I think not. "Now the old year passes and vanishes," (I paraphrase Nietzsche), "and all at once I remain the same. I myself belong to the causes of the eternal recurrence. I come again, each New Year's Day, with this sun, with this earth, to experience not a new life or a better life or a similar life. I come back eternally to this same, selfsame life, in what is greatest as in what is smallest, to experience again the eternal recurrence of all things, to speak again the same words, write again the same letters."

Brian, buddy, Dear American friend, that miserable patch of event, that melange of nothing, while I was looking ahead for something to happen, that was it! That was life. I lived it! -- A pessimistic thought. But then, perhaps it is not too late. I may well do something to redeem the last twenty years of my life. (I think I've said that before.)

To tell you the truth, I feel like the Henry James character, John Marcher: the man who was predestined to live an empty life, the man to whom nothing on earth was to have happened. You must know the Henry James story, "The Beast in The Jungle?" "Everything fell together, confessed, explained, overwhelmed, leaving him most of all stupefied at the blindness he had cherished. The fate he had been marked for he had met with a vengeance -- he had emptied the cup to the lees; he had been the man of his time, THE man, to whom nothing on earth was to have happened. That was the rare stroke -- that was his visitation. So he saw it, as we say, in pale horror, while the pieces fitted and fitted. . . . It was the truth, vivid and monstrous, that all the while he had waited the wait was itself his portion." John Marcher waited a lifetime for a final judgment that when rendered resolved Nothing -- the nothingness that was his life.

Did you catch that Strauss concert on TV the other night? I can't say it's something I waited to see. Year in and year out it's the same crap. PBS broadcasts the Vienna Philharmonic in a concert of Strauss waltzes, polkas, and whatnot each New Year's Day from Vienna. I used to enjoy the concerts. But they've become tiresome for me. Now, I generally watch the first few minutes of the concert, then reach for the remote. Don't get me wrong. I sometimes have hankerings after goodness and refinement, and want to hear Strauss, to read poetry and to cherish human ideals. But an hour-and-a-half of waltzes and polkas is just a little too delightful for me.

Schizoid that I am, I prefer Wagner to Strauss. As a matter of fact, from what I've read, Strauss himself seems to have preferred Wagner to Strauss. A preference for Wagner is a diagnostic criterion for Schizoid Personality Disorder, did you know that? Wagner' music, so it's been observed, has a special appeal for the emotionally isolated or repressed, for the individual who encompasses the psychological Great Divide that exalts thought over feeling: Nietzsche, Proust living alone in his cork-lined room; Albert Schweitzer (Jean-Paul Sartre's cousin, by the way), who turned his back on the Western world to live out his life in Africa; Bernard Shaw, under-sexed and unable to relate to others except through ideas (and adaptations of ancient myths, such as Pygmalion). This is not to mention the composers, for instance Richard Strauss -- of whom Lotte Lehmann, who revered him, wrote: "As a rule he appeared utterly aloof and impersonal, so cold in his reaction to people that they would withdraw instantly and give up any misguided attempt at friendliness"; Mahler and Schoenberg, both of them neurotic and alienated to a degree; the celibate Bruckner (Anton, not Wally -- the sportscaster on WRC-TV). I am not, of course, saying that Wagner appeals to all emotionally deprived people, or only to deprived people, but the words of Thomas Mann about "deep and single bliss in the midst of the theatre throngs" touch on something crucial about this art's power: it makes possible a passionate warmth and fullness of emotion without personal relationships. Wagner's music seems to have a particular appeal to the isolated and the odd.

Yes, I am isolated and I am certainly odd. I am a divided man. Like the city of Vienna itself, really. Vienna at the turn of the twentieth century -- Vienna at the decline of the Dual Monarchy -- was like a cracked mirror that could not reflect a true image, and therefore appeared fragmented and inconsistent. Thus the city of Vienna, the precious pearl in the Habsburg crown which was so dear to the Emperor's heart, was the place above all others whose inhabitants lived a life of inconsistencies and false appearances: a veritable case of "false reflecting," as Jerry Seinfeld would say. Vienna was a city of cracked mirrors, skinny mirrors, and assorted reflecting devices of dubious reflective veracity.

It has been said that Vienna was the city of paradoxes; certainly many mutually incompatible political and ideological movements were initiated there: Zionism and anti-Semitism; the cult of traditional womanhood and feminism; the aristocratic ostentation of state occasions and the prototype of the capitalist bourgeoisie not entirely free of a staid Biedermaeier cautiousness; a flourishing middle class with values still apparently rooted in the past, and a restless coterie of equally middle class intellectuals profoundly antagonistic to these values. This was the Vienna where science thrived and was discussed by a wide variety of learned societies. This was the Vienna where radically innovative scientific discoveries (of which psychoanalysis was certainly one) were greeted with a conspiracy of silence, unless whoever had pioneered them was officially acknowledged by the powers that be.

Sigmund Freud, one of Vienna's famous inhabitants, was himself a divided, and, at times, an isolated man. All accounts concur to create an image of Freud in the early 1890's as the traditional young Jewish doctor with a conservative middle class background, eager to work hard for the sake of his family as befits a responsible, loving husband and father. But a more careful examination of the facts -- based on letters to his friend Wilhelm Fliess -- reveals a very different picture. Indeed, such an examination reveals a Steppenwolf -- half-man, half-wolf, "Steppenwolf, baby, Steppenwolf!" The placid scientist, the patient and conventional lover is in fact a man of violent (or at least potentially violent), sometimes uncontrollable passions -- or passions that are only controlled after a painful inner (and not always inner) struggle.

Freud -- like myself, I believe -- exploited the profound discrepancy between his emotions and his reason. Freud the jealous, impulse-ridden future husband, was at odds with Freud the rational man who could objectively diagnose inconsistencies within himself and within society (such as Vienna's "transfer or transition" from a tradition-bound seat of the monarchy to a cosmopolitan city populated by radical scientists and artists). One biographer observes: "He was beyond doubt someone whose instincts were far more powerful than those of the average man, but whose repressions were even more potent. The combination brought about an inner intensity of a degree that is perhaps the essential feature of any great genius." Well, of course, I'm no genius. I'm just intense -- though, during lucid moments (as I once told a sneering Inspector General), I can display a brilliant legal mind. But definitely, it can be said of me, as it has been said of Freud, that there is not a single trait of my character, not a decision I have made nor an incident in my life, that cannot be interpreted in two different ways.

My gifts, my disabilities, and my torments reach unusual heights (or depths) precisely because they are nourished by an irreconcilable tension between contrasting inner values and fragmented inner states. It's as if my senses reel from a Charles Ives piece that echoes endlessly in my mind: waltzes, marches, polkas -- all in different meters -- playing simultaneously, all the time.

Every person has demons. We all have horrible fears and insecurities that we need to overcome. Mine come from never feeling accepted by any group, never being received. An inner intensity and fragmentation and a corresponding inability to derive a sense of wholeness and a relaxation of inner tension in the company of others have maintained my status as outsider -- a role that, in middle age, I have actively cultivated. I wanted only an authentic life. I wanted only to try to live in accord with the promptings which came from my true self. Why was that so very difficult? Why? -- And that, my friend, is The Unanswered Question.

A horrible kind of predestination hovers over each new attachment I form. "Only connect," E.M. Forster proposed. "Only I can't," -- that I know. I have always felt both a certain disdain for an ordinary sense of belonging, and a hunger or a nostalgia for it that has never entirely gone away.

I am an artist. Not a great artist, but an artist nonetheless. If I am a mediocre artist, well, I'll settle for that. That designation will suffice; it places me in a distinct category of persons, namely, those who have suffered and who are driven to transform their suffering through expression -- innovatively, brilliantly, or perhaps just imitatively and mediocrely. There was much suffering in the childhood of all great writers BECAUSE they experienced the wounds, humiliations, fears, and feelings of abandonment that are an inevitable part of that period of life much more strongly and intensely than others. (If I am a mediocre artist, perhaps it is that I did not suffer enough! "No pain, no gain," as Mozart's personal trainer used to say.) By storing up the pain they suffered, by making it an essential part of themselves and of their imaginative life and then expressing it in transfigured form, some artists guarantee the survival of their painful feelings.

I don't think The Mad Monk appreciates this aspect of me: that my obsessions -- with you, for instance, buddy -- are not just a substitute for a normal, gratifying existence. My obsessions preserve or repeat (and let us not forget my compulsion to repeat) past suffering. They are a substitute for past suffering. "I want to be Brian's friend," I tell The Mad Monk. "You are obsessed with Brian," she will respond, "because you don't have a real friend. If you had a real friend, you'd forget about Brian. Brian, for you, Mr. Freedman, is a substitute for a normal, healthy friendship. You fantasize about being Brian's friend to compensate for your loneliness. If you had a real friend you would not fantasize about Brian." Thus spoke The Mad Monk -- and spoke, and spoke, and spoke.

But what does Dr. Bash's interpretation assume? Dr. Bash seems to assume that my thoughts and fantasies about you, Brian, are a substitute for a healthy past: that there was some nurturing experience or relationship in the past (in my childhood) that serves as a prototype for my fantasies about you. Isn't that what she is saying or assuming? I imagine the ideal as a substitute for the real. But what was my reality? Did I experience a unqualifiedly gratifying relationship in the past that imprinted itself on my unconscious, which I now try to revive in fantasy? That raises the question: If I had the lived experience of a healthy relationship as prototype for current fantasy, why is my ability to develop relationships so severely impaired? Nurture a child and that child as an adult will have the ego capacity (unimpaired by past suffering) to actualize his needs in the real world.

What I'm saying is -- and it's the same point made by the psychoanalytic renegade Alice Miller -- the suffering adult immortalizes a painful past; the suffering adult's fantasies are not simply a compensation for frustrated drives. Alice Miller observes that in creative writers who are struggling with a painful past we find the dissociation of painful feelings from the first attachment figures, toward whom they were directed, and their association with new, unreal fictitious figures, which guarantees the "survival" of the neurosis.

Miller continues: "It is this rift, the dissociation of feelings from those who caused them, along with the preservation of their content in a fantasy world, that shapes an artist's work, although the artistic expression of suffering does not do away with neurosis. Suffering, can, however, be blunted in the process of writing, for the writer possesses in his art an imaginary object with ideal qualities: it is available, can always understand him, take him seriously, be supportive," and does not inquire into his fluency in Hebrew, direct him to attend his local synagogue, or recommend that he eat out. The artist can tell his woes to this imaginary object without interruption or reproof.

Let me offer something concrete that ties together several issues. The late analyst Peter Blos specialized in the failures in emotional adaptation of male patients. His clinical experience convinced him that difficulties in emotional relationships between men, such as rivalry feelings, the expression of competition, oppositionalism, and defiance, in action and thought, which are directed against other men, have to be largely comprehended as the result of an incomplete detachment from the real father and his protective presence in the boy's life -- a presence either actual, construed, or wished for. I repeat: Actual, construed, or wished for.

As for my obsession with you, buddy, I think there's a real question about whether my fantasized friendship with you is a substitute for a gratifying, actual relationship with an early attachment object -- or (and this is crucial) whether the torment of an ungratified (or ungratifiable) fantasy constitutes the immortalization, or repetition, of a painful "wished for" relationship with an early attachment object. Do you see the distinction? According to The Mad Monk, I fantasize about you because I'm lonely and, so she reasons, if my fantasy were gratified it would dissolve, like salt in a glass of water. What about the following interpretation? My fantasy of a friendship with you is an atavism grounded in masochism: the fantasy satisfies a masochistic need to preserve the torment of a "wished for" (but never gratified) satisfying relationship with pops. In the latter case, that unconscious fantasy will not be undone by the present gratification of social needs or drives. The repetition compulsion dictates that I reexperience or reencounter a "wished for" (but never gratified) relationship with a (not so) ideal father. Life Beyond The Pleasure Principle preordains that I experience misery, not pleasure. All the while I have waited to be your friend, Brian, perhaps the wait itself was my predestined portion.

Do you see how Dr. Bash's interpretation denies past suffering? She denies an interpretation of my obsession with you as a preservation of suffering, and instead depicts my obsession as a substitute for something gratifying.

Dr. Bash's approach, at least in my interpretation, indicates her identification with the unempathic parent. The unempathic parent denies that his or her child has suffered, just as The Mad Monk denies that I struggle with the effects of past suffering. To paraphrase Alice Miller: The psychotherapist of an adult patient, as the suffering child's posterity, takes on, in a sense, the role of the patient's parents, since the therapist, too, can dispense recommendations to the patient without having to deal with the patient's actual suffering. In my opinion, that's just not kosher.

Be that as it may.

In me, as in Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolf, the rational man and the man of violent passions -- my rude-boy counterpart, the wolf -- do not go the same way together, but are in continual and deadly enmity. One exists simply and solely to harm or restrain the other, and when there are two in one blood and in one soul who are at deadly enmity, then life fares ill. Well, to each his lot, and none is light.

I have not had an exactly pleasant and happy life of it. This does not mean, however, that I am unhappy in any extraordinary degree (although it may have seemed so to me all the same inasmuch as every man takes the sufferings that fall to his share as the greatest). (A Viennese expression has always appealed to me: "The situation is hopeless, but not serious." The abysm of despair never seems to negate my capacity for humor.) Even he who has no wolf in him, may be none the happier for that. And even the unhappiest life has its sunny moments -- its bewitching and refreshing significant moments -- and its little flowers of happiness between sand and stone. So it is, then, with me too. It cannot be denied that I am generally very unhappy; and I can make others unhappy also, that is, when I like them or they me. For all who get to like me, see always only the one side in me. Many like me as a refined and clever and interesting man, and are horrified and disappointed when they come upon the wolf in me: a man of violent (or at least potentially violent), sometimes uncontrollable passions, passions that hide in dark places -- or passions that are only controlled after a painful inner (and not always inner) struggle.

And they have to be horrified because I wish, as every sentient being does, to be appreciated as a whole and therefore it is just with those whose friendship I most value that I can least of all conceal and belie the wolf: the wolf of the dimly-lit lair. There are those, however, who are attracted precisely to the wolf in me, the free, the savage, the untamable, the dangerous and id-driven, the passionate wolf who resides in the forest's dark recesses, and these find it peculiarly disappointing and deplorable when suddenly the wild and wicked wolf is also a man, and has hankerings after goodness and refinement, and wants to hear Mozart, to read poetry and to cherish human ideals. Usually these are the most disappointed and angry of all; and so it is that I bring my own dual and divided nature into the destinies of others besides myself whenever I come into contact with them.

Check you out next week across the Great Divide, buddy. Brother-Animal, You!


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